A Marketers Guide to xConnect

I know what you’re thinking.  ‘xConnect is very technical.  Why does a marketer need to understand it?’    The answer is, you don’t.  You don’t need to understand the tech.  But, it’s important to understand what it can do.  It opens up the ability to collect & use all sorts of customer information.  That’s primarily:

  • Contact information: Facets that describe/decorate the contact, and

  • Event information: What the contact does / how the contact interacts with the brand.

As a marketer, if we can understand what xConnect can do, we can open up a lot options to gather data from multiple systems or services, and better use that in our analytics & analysis.  It can help us get to that elusive single view of the customer.    

What is xConnect? 

From Sitecore - xConnect is the service layer that sits in between the xDB and any trusted client, device, or interface that wants to read, write, or search xDB data.   Let’s unpack that a bit.

Writing to xDB

We have over 3,000 different touchpoints, potentially, with our members: different emails, print, many different kinds of online touchpoints. We’ve been working through rearchitecting those.
— David Edelman - Aetna CMO - From CXOTalk Podcast

Think about the ways that our customer interacts with us.  They spend time on our (Sitecore) website.  They may respond to messaging from 3rd party email systems and marketing automation systems.  They may interact with our POS, CRM, eCom, or registration systems.   If you sit down & map all of your customer touch points (online and offline) you may come up with hundreds, or possibly thousands of different interactions.  With xConnect, we now have a way to collect that information and use it to generate a better profile of the customer.  There are two primary types of information that we can collect.

  • Contact information: These are things that describe the customer, that might be used in marketing. Things like age range, gender, interests, demographics, etc.

  • Event information: These are actions the customer might take, that we want to track. Things like responding to an email offer, logging into our mobile app, making a purchase, registering for an event, writing a social post that contains a specific hashtag. Events may be used to trigger a goal, or place a customer in a specific marketing automation.

  • Event payload information: Each event may have information that describes it. An eCom order could have order date, amount, products purchased. An event registration might have the registration level, topic interests, dietary preferences.

Using xConnect, we can now get all that contact and event information into xDB. That makes xDB, our defacto customer hub.

Searching xDB

Now that we have all this rich data in xDB, how can we use it? 

  • We can use it as a data source for other marketing systems. xConnect includes a set of APIs that can be used to get data in and out of xDB.

  • We can extend Sitecore’s reporting functionality to include these new data points. We can extend the Experience Profile with a new visitor tab that includes customer data. We can add custom events into the Experience Profile timeline. We can add customer & event data into the Experience Analytics in the form of new dimensions and filters.

  • We can query xDB directly, through xConnect APIs. It’s pretty common to develop a set of frequently used data extraction APIs. As an example, these might be a customer profile export, or an event registration data export. These data exports can be fed into analytics packages like Power BI, Domo or Tableau.

  • We can get started with machine learning, by diving into Cortex. If you’ve been thinking about a proof of concept project for machine learning, but don’t know how to get the data - here’s an option. Sitecore Cortex (part of Sitecore 9.1) includes a projection framework. This is an API that converts the xDB data into a tabular form that’s the required shape for machine learning.

Warning - Developers needed

Since this post is for marketers, I don’t want to mislead you. You can’t do this on your own. You’re going to need developers to build out the custom facets and write to the xConnect APIs.

This post is intended to surface what’s possible. My hope is that it gets you thinking about how you might use xConnect to build out that customer hub that you probably don’t have now. And I hope that it gives you beginning structure to ask your development team about how to get started. If you need help making the ask, let me know. I’m happy to help.